Lockdown restrictions may have been lifted for the first time in 16 months across England – but the threat to young, unvaccinated population has never been more clearer for one Preston doctor leading the city’s Covid response throughout the pandemic.
Dr Mohammed Munavvar has been spearheading Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s pandemic response since the early days of 2020, currently serving as a consultant respiratory physician at Royal Preston Hospital and dealing with Covid-19 positive patients on a daily basis.
Throughout July, there have on any given day been between 50 and 60 patients in hospital in the last week with coronavirus.
This has, in fact, been a constant pressure going back to June 16 when there Covid inpatients went over the 50 mark for the first time since early spring.
Daily admissions in July are also ranging between two and 10, NHS England data states – a far cry from the January spike of 25 in a single day.
As we speak, around one in five admissions are being placed in an intensive care unit. And of those who are being brought to hospital with serious illness due to Covid, the vast majority have not had a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
“Around 20% of those are receiving intensive care support – and of those close to 70% are people without a single dose of vaccine,” Dr Munavvar told LancsLive.
“25% have had one dose and around 5% have had both doses.
“But in that smaller group they have a lot of underlying complications and risk factors that are made worse by coronavirus.”
Of those being admitted, far more are ‘younger and fitter people’, the doctor of 28 years said, with patients in their late teens, 20s and 30s.
Vaccine take up is now a “matter of urgency”, he added.
Dr Munavvar said: “Young people, very fit people, are coming in with coronavirus. You did not see much of that in the first two waves.
“There’s a massive misconception that being well means you are not going to get ill.
“In the UK we have done quite well reaching 68% of people doubled jabbed but we should be aiming for 90%.”
There have been days during this third wave of the virus in the UK where Covid beds at Royal Preston have been full, Dr Munavvar said, as has been the situation at Royal Blackburn Hospital in the east of the county.
Speaking to the BBC, one nurse said the east Lancashire hospital had “far too many” patients to cope with certain patients last week sent elsewhere due to high demand on certain days.
Since the turn of the month, Covid inpatient levels at Royal Blackburn have been similar to Royal Preston with between 40 and 60 beds taken up on any particular day.
Across the North West, NHS data shows that demand for beds has only been consistently higher at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
“We have been putting beds in between beds to make Covid bed spaces. The whole of the critical care unit as it was is now back to being Covid. We’ve transferred patients out to other hospitals,” the Royal Blackburn staff member told the BBC.
The rise in demand is by no means a daily occurrence, a spokesperson at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said.
The situation is also not comparable to other hospital trusts across the country that are having to cancel elective surgery appointments due to Covid demand, with the spokesperson saying no such decision has been taken during the third wave.
Dr Munavvar added: “The unit has been under pressure without a doubt and I’m afraid that has been the case.
“We are in close contact with other intensive car units across the county because of this.”
On demand at Royal Preston, Dr Munavvar said it has varied during the third peak due to having four wards for virus patients, with individuals placed on one depending how how ill they are.
As for life after today, with no restrictions in place, the feeling is that we will see a future with increased virus deaths and hospitalisations.
But Dr Munavvar doesn’t see this as comparable with what was seen earlier on during the pandemic due to the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Nevertheless, the trust has ‘contingency plans’ in place in case of the service being overwhelmed. What those are, he would not say.
For Dr Munavvar, as well as getting jabbed, mask wearing should continue in enclosed spaces with other people that are not from your household. This is despite the legal requirement to wear one ending today.
“The vaccine is freely available,” he said, saying that inoculation is truly the only way out of this situation.
Have you got news for us? Contact our newsdesk on email@example.com.
Get all the latest news, sport and what’s on stories sent to your inbox daily with the LancsLive newsletter here.